This week has been an emotional one. as I finally left teaching after a career of 32 years! It has been a very difficult decision to make, but one which will free me up to undertake lots of new, exciting projects.
When I took on the role at Michael Drayton Junior School, I had not really planned on staying 10 years! I was taken on in a consultancy role, to assess the school grounds and draw up plans on how they could be developed. The plan I drew up was pretty grand and the Head Teacher at the time, John Buxton, was keen to make it reality. I convinced him that, if he took me on 2 days a week, I would leave the teaching job I had at the time and I would take on the challenge.. a bold move for him as I would not have a class commitment. Ten years later and I feel I have achieved way more than I ever set out to do and I am very, very proud of what I am leaving for the school.!
I have shed more than a few tears this week, especially at this wonderful video that the school produced for me.....
It has been a real passion of mine to not only transform the grounds into a space that everyone can take their learning, whatever that may be, but also for changing the culture on the school to one where all children want to care for nature and have an interest in the natural world.
I want to showcase some of what we have done, here on my blog, so I have a record and I can look back in years to come and not forget all of our achievements. I could not have done it without the support of the current Head, Diane Compton-Belcher, who kept me on after John retired. She has supported all my crazy projects and left me to my vision, trusting in my decisions. The staff at the school have been amazing; many completely coming out of their comfort zone to bring whole classes into the woods or to really embrace the idea of taking their teaching out into the fresh air and to see the benefits that it brings. The pastoral care team are amazing and they, possibly more than any other, have seen how powerful outdoor learning can be to some of our most vulnerable pupils. I am going to miss them greatly!
I am immensely proud of the school grounds now. When I started, there was just a school field and a newly built pond. These are some of the areas I've created over the years....
The Grow Zone - Areas for pupils to grow their own fruit and vegetables
Alfresco - A large area designed to encourage teachers to take their 'normal' teaching and learning outside. Three outdoor classrooms and lots of fun spaces for pupils to sit. Virtually everything created out of recycled or free materials!
Wild Learning Area - two ponds, habitats and lots of spaces for wildlife to flourish...
Animals in School - Looking after animals in school has been an important part of my vision. Pupils gain so much from contact with animals. It is a wonderful opportunity for learning as well and appreciating how much care animals need. We have kept rabbits, guinea pigs, quail and also hatched our own eggs, keeping those chicks on in school. Wren was our school dog and enjoyed it as much as the kids did!
Hartshill Hayes - These woodlands are a 5 minute walk from school yet, when I joined, no one used them. It is an incredible resource! We have built a base camp in there, with a den, all out of foraged materials and the pupils absolutely LOVE going there! Many year groups have visits built into their planning to support their curriculum and I absolutely LOVE seeing pupils enjoying this incredible space. These videos sum up how much learning can go on in such a space, from confidence building, to team work to language development, not to mention pure joy at becoming Fungi Foragers and discovering a wealth of incredible mushrooms in the Autumn.
... and instilling a love for their world, which means they want to care for and protect it.....
We have achieved so much, but my driving force has always been the pupils and the immense joy that working with them brings me. I simply cannot express how many special moments I have had with pupils over this time. For many of the pupils I have worked with, the outdoors has given them a freedom and confidence that they could never have in a classroom. I have seen shy and withdrawn children blossom into confident and exuberant individuals. We have shared challenges, learnt new things, laughed and joked.... and most of all we have loved spending time together and we've had a lot of fun!
I had to include this example..... Masterchef competition in the woods, where pupils had to create a delicious imaginary dish and then bring it to the judging table and describe it to me....
We have undertaken so many projects in the last decade... way too many for me to document here.
I am leaving all of this in the capable hands of others, who will carry on to develop and enhance the learning of all our children, in the outdoors as well as the classroom.
My passion for outdoor learning will continue in a consultancy role, where I will be working with other schools to help them on their journey to creating opportunities for learning in the fresh air.
I also have a very big new project I have been thinking about for a long time.... but you'll have to wait to hear more about that!